Big Time Racing in the Big Apple

New York City Triathlon Race Report

After five weeks of hard training Canada, I returned home on Monday July 10th to get ready for the NYC triathlon. The NYC Triathlon is an Olympic distance (1.5km-swim / 40km-bike / 10km-run) race that features a number of prominent landmarks on the course. The swim takes place in the Hudson River (yes, I know what you are thinking, and no, it is not that bad) between 99th and 81st St. The transition area is located on the softball field just south of the 79th St. Boat Basin. From there, the bike course winds along the northbound lane of the West Side Highway, which is entirely closed to traffic, out to a short out-and-back section of the Mosholu Parkway. After the bike, it is over to the 72nd Street Traverse to Central Park for one loop of the outer perimeter of the park, finishing around the fountain near the bandshell just off 72nd. Riding through the toll plaza on the Henry Hudson Bridge and running down the middle of 72nd street are the definite highlights of the race, since this is the only time you’d ever get to do anything like it, at least without getting arrested.

The race itself took place on Sunday July 16th, with the pro men leading off the field at 5:50AM. The early start was actually welcome, since we’d had a whole string of days with 90+F temperatures and 90+% humidity. Even at 5:30AM, it was already quite warm and the air was thick with moisture. But, to combat the heat and humidity, I had a new trick up my sleeve for this race. After doing some research on core-temperature’s effect on performance and hot weather racing while I was in Canada, I found some articles on pre-cooling the core during a warm-up. The most effective way to do this is with an ice-vest, which is simply a vest that houses ice-gel-packs that keep your core temperature down as you do your warm-up. I did some research online, and discovered one particular vest made by a company called ArcticHeat, based originally out of Australia. The vest is really designed for athletes and is very lightweight, as opposed to some cooling vests made for welders or other high-temperature environment workers. I wrote to ArcticHeat to ask them about sizing and to explain how I wanted to use their vest, and they wrote back saying they were interested in sponsoring me, which was really fantastic. I got the vest in the mail the week before the race, and after some trial testing, was really excited to use it the morning of. The vest is a special sportwool, which is really soft. After freezing the vest overnight, I brought it to race in a cooler. I got the vest a little wet to soften it up, and then put it on to do my warm-up. As I did my run warm-up, I felt really good. The vest was really comfortable and didn’t interfere with my running at all. I also felt much better and, not suprisingly, much cooler as compared with runs I had done during the week. Just before they called us out to the start, I took of my vest and checked in with my other “drop-off” stuff and got out onto the pontoon feeling really good, even in my wetsuit. So thanks a lot ArcticHeat! I’m really excited to use the vest before all my races this season, as well as in training.

The race moves dates every year, since the swim is governed by the tides. If the tide was coming in, the swim would be almost impossible to finish, since even with the current flowing out, the tide governs most of the flow of the Hudson down around Manhattan. So, as a result, the race must be scheduled when the tide is going to be heading out for all racers. According to the organizers, we had the strongest tidal pull in the first wave, so that was going to make for some quick times. The tide was moving so fast, that they changed the start to be a dive from the pontoon, since they were worried we might struggle to even get onto the starting line attached to the barge.

Unfortunately, this announcement came a just as we were about to start, and I was unable to get a really good position. So after the horn went off, I had to sort of jump in, rather than dive, since diving could have been catastrophic for both me and whomever I landed on. And then we were off and flying. Without being able to practice the swim, I wasn’t fully prepared for the strength of the pull. The water pushed us hard to the left towards the seawall. But the strongest current was to the right, out towards the middle of the river. I had started in the middle of the group, but ended up a bit towards the back. Then suddenly, I was all the way left and getting pushed hard to the seawall. The pack went hard to the right to ride the strong current, and within five strokes, I had lost them. Fortunately, with the fast current, I was able to finish out the swim in a quick time, but I had still given up about 1:30 on the leaders, which was a bit of a disappointment considering that I’d been swimming really well in Canada.

After exiting the river, it’s a long run down to transition, taking over three minutes. Once on the bike, it is a bit of a windy path to get out onto the West Side Highway, where you can really start to go. The bike course is pretty fast, but challenging with lots of false flats and small rises. It’s definitely a course where your best ride will come if you are able to carry momentum. I did my best to try and keep my power up, but the go-go-go style of Olympic distance racing was a bit of a shock. I’m used to hunkering down and grinding away for 56 miles, and you can’t do that in an shorter race against a top notch field. Passing by the field on the Mosholu Parkway, I was able to asses where I was. I was not too far back, in terms of overall distance, but it was an eternity against this sort of competition. I resolved to dig down and try and ride faster the second half, when there is usually some fade among the leaders who have been jockeying for position.

I came into transition off the bike hot on the heels of Michael Simpson, the winner of the 2005 LA Triathlon. As I chased him down 72nd St., I could tell that I was closing the gap, getting closer and closer. But then, as we hit the very tough hills of Central Park, I could feel my legs start to give out. I knew I had done a lot of hard training during the previous month and a half, and I had hoped that I would be able to hold up for a full two hours of racing, but I just ran into that invisible wall. I dug down to finish, knowing that I still had a pretty good race going overall.

I crossed the finish line very wearily in 1:56:13, good enough for 12th place among the pros, and 15th overall, getting clipped by two “Elite Age-Groupers” and one guy in the regular Age-Group race who really just flew over the course. Overall, it was a tough day, but I think it will set me up well for the longer races I will do later in the season. It was also amazing to race on such a spectacular course, and to feel like the city is shut down just for you. Hopefully I can race again next year and put on a better show for the hometown crowd.

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